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Dandavats! All Glories to Sri Guru and Sri Gauranga!

Butter and Fire

Tuesday, 07 August 2018 / Published in Blog thoughts / 632 views

by Devaki Devi Dasi

To transgress the recommendations of vaishnava etiquette always leads to
disturbances, misunderstandings, conflicts and even fall-down. It
contaminates our hearts and the atmosphere in our communities. Krishna tries
to protect us from such miseries by giving us His culture and etiquette. And
a vaishnava has to set a good example by following them. We might think
ourselves to be beyond those rules and spiritually strong enough not to get
affected by such transgression-nevertheless, we have to follow just to set a
shining example to others. If we disregard the rules of etiquette, others
will easily follow our bad example and also transgress such recommendations,
which will result in disturbances and contamination.
The standard of vaishnava etiquette and behavior towards the other gender
deserves special attention, since the man/woman attraction is so powerful
and may create most disturbance. Sex life does not only take place on the
gross physical level, but also on the subtle level of the mind. To speak
unnecessarily to members of the other gender, to laugh and joke with them
and engage in dealings which are not absolutely required for service may be
classified as subtle sex life, because we enjoy in a subtle way the
association and attention of the other gender. As we all know, Srila
Prabhupada gave us the analogy of butter and fire: butter is good and fire
is good, but if they come too close, the butter melts. Never mind whether it
is old or young butter, white, yellow or saffron butter, whether it is old
or young fire, married or unmarried fire-butter is butter, and fire is fire!
They maintain their inert qualities. Thus the two genders should be kept
separately as far as possible and practical. It enhances our spiritual
advancement and keeps the atmosphere more pure. In fact, the more we keep
our personal spiritual practice strict and pure, the more we can be
empowered to preach. Purity is the force. But if we compromise the standards
and allow free mingling to enter our life, we will remain on a lower level
of spiritual advancement and thus will not be able to uplift others.
We can find this understanding in all genuine spiritual practices. Strictly
practicing Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists agree with the understanding,
that the man/woman attraction distracts us from God. Most monasteries are
either for men or women-not for both genders. Srila Prabhupada was so
liberal to arrange men’s and women’s ashramas under the same roof, because
he could understand that in modern life there is free mingling of the
genders. But at the same time he emphasized vaishnava etiquette between men
and women-for our own protection, wellbeing and spiritual advancement.

On a morning walk in Chicago on July 10, 1075, Srila Prabhupada explains
this aspect of vaishnava culture-even in regards to family relations:
“The example is the butter and fire should be kept separate as far as…
Otherwise the butter will melt. Matra svasra duhitra va [SB 9.19.17]. The
butter and…, means man and woman. A man is butter, and woman is fire. So
this is restricted even the man happens to be father, brother or son. Matra
svasra duhitra va. People cannot think of sex impulse in the presence of
daughter, mother or sister. But shastra says “No. There is possibility.”
Matra svasra duhitra va na vivaktasane vaset: “They should not be kept,
should not sit together.” Then people may say, “This is impossible. Maybe
some tenth-class rascal may be attracted.” So the next line says, “No,”
vidvamshapi karshati, “it is not the question of tenth-class rascal; even
first-class learned, he may be attracted.” Not to speak of tenth-class
rascal, but first-class learned may be. Not may be. It is a… Balavan
indriya-gramo vidvamshapi karshati: “The senses are so strong that it can
mislead even the most learned scholar.”
In a lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.1.6 given in Mumbai on April 17, 1976,
he further explains:
“With woman you should be very, very cautious and careful, as much as
required, not free mingling. No. Therefore, according to Vedic civilization,
there is always a separation between woman and men. Here in India we find
that whenever there is some meeting, the women are sitting separately; men
are sitting separately. This is required. Not only that, you cannot talk
even with woman unnecessarily, even with your wife. This is restriction.
Therefore it is said, yavad-artham vyavaharet: “as much as it is required.”
Don’t talk unnecessarily, “Phish, phish, phish.” That is very dangerous.
Dangerous means in spiritual life. Yavad-artham. Even with your mother, with
your daughter, with your sister, you cannot sit in a solitary place and
talk. This is restricted. What to speak of others, even with your mother.”

Once we gain this understanding, which is of course entirely opposite to the
modern materialistic world view, it becomes obvious that in order to make
spiritual advancement in Krishna consciousness, there is not much room for
friendship between men and women. We keep such association to the bare
minimum required to perform our service, and otherwise maintain a respectful
distance to each other. This is how we show our affection and respect
towards each other: we don’t want to distract each other from our attention
to the Lord. This doesn’t mean we are impersonal with each other. No, we
simply have to learn to relate on different levels.
Vaishnava culture and etiquette is designed to reduce the fever of lusty
desires and cool down the men-woman attraction. It is Krishna’s system to
protect us from trouble, pain and miseries. We can observe how our high
divorce rate in ISKCON is related to transgressing vaishnava etiquette. Very
often a husband may separate from his wife by getting together with her best
friend, and vice versa. As a rule, it starts by disregarding the rules of
etiquette and playing with fire, which then leads to unwanted attachments
and illicit relationships.
In some parts of the world it has become common practice in Krishna
consciousness for men to hug ladies and vice versa. Sometimes we may find
this going on even under the name of preaching. Such practice is not
conducive for spiritual progress. Rather, it is subtle sex life. It shows
that we have unfulfilled needs, which are meant to be satisfied within
family life. Even in the secular world it is established, that a man and
woman hugging each other for longer than a minute brings about a similar
chemical reaction and sensation experienced after sex life.
Better to be honest and situate oneself in the grhastha ashrama. Thus we can
fulfill our needs according to the recommendations of shastra, accept
responsibility and perform the purifying duties prescribed for this ashrama.
This is the recommended way for spiritual progress. To try and bypass such
seemingly cumbersome austerities by fulfilling one’s emotional and physical
needs in a scripturally unauthorized way will not lead to success on the
path of devotional service. We will merely cheat ourselves and create
disturbance for others.
Even within devotional service it is recommended to always try to arrange
things in such a way to minimize the association between both genders. It is
an important principle within spiritual practice. In situations where it
cannot be avoided, it is advisable to be alert in fear, always remembering
that we are taking a conscious risk for the sake of serving or preaching.
When alert in fear, we can be introspective in order to guard against the
spirit of sense gratification. We reflect, not allowing ourselves to enjoy
the attention and company of the other gender. Detecting such tendencies for
subtle sense gratification in our hearts, we may regret and be extra careful
and self-observant. In this way a sincere devotee can be protected.
When the need arises for a man to meet with a lady in discussion over
service, the spouse of one of them should be present. If this is not
possible, any other third person should be there. If such an arrangement can
also not be made, then to the very least the meeting should take place in
public or with the door open. Even a little detail such as keeping the door
open makes a subtle yet powerful difference. These are the rules of
vaishnava etiquette, and it is highly recommended to strictly follow
them-even if it is only as an example to others.

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